NBA Hall of Famer and two-time National Champion, Bill Walton shared his insights on recognizing and emulating strong leadership to a packed auditorium of business students and community members, kicking off the signature series "In the Executive’s Chair."

A great leader, he explained, has the ability to make other people better.

“Too many people in today’s world pull up the ladder once they make it to the top,” he said. “What a great leader does instead is reach down and help pull others up.”

Walton’s talk on Jan. 31 launched the spring series of the College of Business Administration’s In the Executive’s Chair, an innovative course that invites top executives to campus to share about their business perspectives, as well as their successes and failures that helped to shape them into great leaders. This fall will mark the program’s tenth year.

Throughout the 90-minute program, Walton shared anecdotes about his career both on and off the court, including his experiences as an athlete, sports broadcaster and businessman. While fans can recount Walton’s many achievements including his record 88-game winning streak with the UCLA Bruins under the helm of Coach John Wooden and his two championship titles with the Portland Trailblazers and the Boston Celtics, Walton measures his success quite differently. The 59-year-old notes that his greatest success has been his ability to get back up after failure.

“I’m actually a failure in so many respects,” he said humbly when asked by a student about his greatest accomplishment. “I am the most injured player ever. I lost a lot of big games. I’ve been on the cover of Sports Illustrated 17 times, but more of those were for games lost than games won. I have failed, struggled, stumbled and fallen; but for me, my success has been my ability to get back up and start again.”

Bill Walton discusses leadership

Standing 6-foot-11, basketball took quite a toll on Walton physically. His professional career was significantly hampered by countless injuries. Those injuries earned him the record for the most games missed during an NBA career. To date, he’s had 36 orthopedic surgeries including having his ankles, as well as sections of his spine, surgically fused. His spinal surgery, which required three years of physical rehabilitation, triggered suicidal thoughts, he said.

Walton’s resilience and candid remarks resonated with senior Cory Andrews, who served on the six-member student panel that interviewed the Hall of Famer.

“All of us have dark days and serious struggles on our journeys, but the strength of a true leader is overcoming those days and persevering,” Andrews said.  “Bill’s story tells me that no matter how bad we think it gets, we must persevere.”

Following his 13 year NBA stint, Walton moved to the sidelines and became a renowned, Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster for nearly two decades. Most recently, he transitioned his career into the boardroom, which he commented shares many similarities with the game of basketball.

“Like business, there’s no waiting around in basketball,” he said. “Every trip up and down the court is different; and to become a champion, you have to chase your vision and just go for it. The same goes for business. Both are a game of mind and heart.”

Currently Walton is the executive chairman of San Diego-based Connect SD Sports Innovators (SDDI). The nonprofit provides mentoring, education and capital funding for startup businesses in the sports industry. In addition, SDDI provides best practice collaboration, access to new technology and public policy advocacy for mature companies. His drive to connect and lift up visionary entrepreneurs recently hit primetime when Walton made a cameo appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank in support of David Mayer’s Clean Bottle invention.

Lifting up others, Walton explained, is imperative, both in business and in life. Nobody makes it on their own, he said, citing the influence Coach Wooden had on his life, as well as Coach Frank “Rocky” Graciano who first introduced the game to Walton. “It is nonsense to think that any of us make it purely on our own.”

“Leadership is about inspiring and motivating people to make them better,” added Professor David Bennett, who co-teaches In the Executive’s Chair with Dr. Raj Pillai.  “Leadership is about creating a culture for people to grow and become better individuals,” a lesson that transcends all sectors, including business.

In the Executive's Chair is open to the community to attend, and hosted on select Tuesdays from 10 to 11:50 a.m. Some of the past guests who shared their wisdom from the executive’s chair include Irwin Jacobs, board chairman of Qualcomm; Judi Missett, CEO/ founder of Jazzercise; and Jeff Moorad, owner of the San Diego Padres. This semester, the course will welcome ten executives and two Hall of Fame athletes, including retired CEO of Burger King Jeff Campbell and CEO of SDG&E Jessie Knight.

View the complete schedule, by visiting In the Executive’s Chair.

“Like business, there’s no waiting around in basketball,” said Walton. “Every trip up and down the court is different; and to become a champion, you have to chase your vision and just go for it. The same goes for business. Both are a game of mind and heart.”

In the Executive's Chair is open to the community to attend, and hosted on select Tuesdays from 10 to 11:50 a.m.